I think we need to find completely different ways of operating. I think we’re looking at that, when we question capitalism, when we question what it’s done, when we talk about sustainable capitalism, when you see these movements around the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street or Los Indignados in Spain, you see a tremendous amount of frustration.
Those are young people, who are seeing that they have no future the way the world is set up against them. There’s a hell of a lot to do, but you have to remain, not stupidly optimistic, but realistically optimistic, if that is possible. You cannot give up, you have to continue, you have to really try to do the best, and have a sense of purpose to what you’re doing.
Are there any specific projects that you’ve seen springing from that rage that justify that optimism?
Not springing out of that, because frankly I find all of those sort of movements just that. It’s an expression of people’s outrage, but there hasn’t been any leadership that’s going to take this in an interesting way and actually come up with something that’s different. It’s just an expression of people’s frustration.
Out of those specific things? No. But I think that many different things, where technology blending with social innovation etcetera has been a way of really coming up with very concrete approaches to reaching those who are at the fringes of economy and of society. Whether you look at what’s happened with mobile banking or mobile anything in Africa, people are really coming up with solutions to using their assets in a different way, to doing more with less, so to speak.
One thing that interests me a lot, particularly when talking about social enterprise, is when we talk about charity, it’s almost in a past tense. Can social enterprise and charity co-exist? Is there space for both? Does one negate the other?
Yeah, I guess there are two aspects here: one is the legal structure. You can be legally structured as a charity and be highly entrepreneurial. It doesn’t have to do with the legal framework. It has to do with your approach.
So, some of the entrepreneurs form their ventures as not-for-profits and are highly leveraged, if I take the case of somebody like Wendy Kopp and Teach for America. Wendy Kopp was this student at Princeton University and, for her senior thesis, she wrote on, ‘How do I actually change conditions in this country so that where you are born or where you grow up doesn’t determine the rest of your life.’ So that if you’re born in a poor community in the United States you’re going to do this.
She set about basically constructing very much a model of the Peace Corps which was, how do I immediately get as many graduates from the best schools in this country to want to go and teach in the worst schools in America? She told me how her thesis faculty member had written on her paper: “You are totally deranged.” Talk about unreasonable.
And she started going, knocking on doors of people to get her started on this and she thought, I’m going to aim for 2500 recruits. She also tells this story of how she finally knocked on one door—the guy was a CEO of a major company and she got in because of her Princeton professor—and she sat down and told him the whole story and he said, “I’m going to write you a $30,000 cheque. But actually not because I really believe in what you’re doing, because I think you’re crazy, but because I feel so sorry for your parents.”
So there she was with a $30,000 cheque, and that’s how Teach for America started. Today there are about, I don’t know, between 20,000 applicants for 250 places at Teach for America; they’re all graduates from Harvard and Princeton and Yale and the leading schools in the US and they’re all competing for the privilege to work for two years in rural America.
Wendy is a non-profit, she does not earn an income, she doesn’t have a revenue stream that’s coming in because of X, she doesn’t do consulting on the side and put in Teach for America, she’s highly leveraged. She’s been able to get public companies, governments, local community groups; even the teachers’ union to actually all contribute.
Now how could you not say this woman is not an entrepreneur? She’s totally changed the system. So it’s not about the fact that she set it up as a for-profit or not-for-profit, forget all that stuff. It’s what you are doing to transform the system. That’s what entrepreneurs do. It’s not about, “Oh, we sell Christmas cards on the side but we’re really working over here with this other thing.”
It’s not about how you earn the money, and I think that’s a big mistake that Britain has done and I hope Australia doesn’t follow in its shoes, you know, in its path. It’s not about how you generate income. It’s what you do to change the system.